Sources confirmed that build 7B21 was seeded as recently reported on other sites. Some of them are even already playing with it and I'm expecting to receive some reports from them during the week. At best, I'll be even able to use a test Mac running this build. Anyway, I think you can expect an update for that soon.
For the moment, the only I can tell you is that this update is rather a bug fixing update that has no new features. Some sources noted some speed improvement too.
As I had mentioned on my Panther 7Axxx build postings, it has been confirmed by other rumor sites that Safari is still being actively improved and a new release will come before or along with the release of Panther.
I'll have a little break on a greek isle for four days (add two days for the boat trip), updates are coming as soon as I'm back. So stay tuned and don't forget that your input is always welcome.
July the 18th 2003
A QuickTime strategy behind iTunes for Windows?
As Steve Jobs announced in April, Apple's iTunes Music Store will be available for Windows users by the end of the year. That implies that iTunes will be developed and released for Windows. That has been confirmed by a job request posted by Apple on Monsters.com as well as by Apple itself, though we have not seen sight of any real iTunes builds from Apple yet.
After several discussions with some sources that have some information related to Apple's strategy (some of them had also helped me to gather information about Apple Europe recently), we concluded that iTunes is not only being ported to Windows to give PC users access to the iTunes Music Store and enjoy their iPod.
Another rather unknown reason why Apple would like to port iTunes to Windows is related to QuickTime. Apple's audio-video media player had been very popular until mid-90s when there was still no competition. But although it's widely used on Mac OS, it has been rapidly supplanted by Microsoft's Windows Media Player and Real's RealOne Player on Windows. Each of these companies have their own proprietary containers and codecs though Real is more committed to open standards and partnerships than Microsoft which uses exclusively its own codecs and containers.
So where is the connection between the port of iTunes to Windows and QuickTime? Actually there is a technical connection between these two applications as QuickTime is used by iTunes as an engine to encode and decode audio in different formats like AIFF, MP3 and AAC. This technical connection has been enhanced with recent versions of QuickTime. For example, QuickTime 6.2 adds further integration with iTunes 4. So, as you may have guessed, iTunes is totally dependent of QuickTime and it's obvious that running iTunes requires QuickTime to be installed on your computer whether it's a Mac or a Windows PC. Though it's still technically possible to make a standalone iTunes, Apple will probably not chose this way.
Now let's suppose that iTunes for Windows has only a portion of the success that WinAmp MP3 player had. If every Windows user that wants to install iTunes has to install QuickTime to run it, it will certainly help Apple to considerably increase its market share in media content players and, by the way, impose the codecs it chooses. It would not be surprising then, that iTunes for Windows installer comes bundled with a QuickTime package for Windows users that don't have it already installed. I also believe that few or none of the Windows users that don't have QuickTime installed yet will refuse to install it to be able to enjoy iTunes, as Apple's audio content player has already become the most famous Apple killer iApp in the PC world, even-though it is only available for the Mac at the moment.
That strategy could even go further. Some of you might have heard about that surprising deal allowing DELL to sell Apple's iPod on its online stores earlier this year. The result of the release of iTunes for Windows could be a complete media content "buy-mix-burn" solution that any Windows PC maker would love to be able to offer to its customers. It would mean that Apple could easily deal with PC makers that target the consumer market to make them sell Windows PCs with QuickTime, iTunes pre-installed and with an option to buy an iPod on their stores. Actually, you should think of iTunes as if it was a kind of Trojan horse to the PC world, allowing Apple to impose its standards, it's digital music player while attracting PC users to the Mac world.
I know I have already mentioned this several times in my earlier postings, but I think it's important to regularly mention when something appears to be wrong in Apple's software. One of the reasons QuickTime's market share has been taken over by competition is the lack of the full screen feature on the free version of the player. It's the reason mentioned by all of my PC-friends when I asked them why they don't have QuickTime. I had predicted that this feature would come with QuickTime included in Panther but on the first builds I could play with I noticed it's still not here and I'm quite disappointed by that. On recent versions Apple has even removed standard MPEG-2 codec and it's something I found definitely ridiculous and perplexing.
To finish, I would like to state that this article is not based on speculation but, on real facts and thoughts expressed by verified sources. I think it was important to specifically state this because such articles can easily be interpreted as merely an extrapolation of random fragments of information. If you have opinions, suggestions or further information don't hesitate to drop a mail.
July the 16th 2003
MacWorld and earnings report, hardware announcements still imminent?
On Monday has started the MacWorld Creative Pro event, formerly "MacWorld New York". A keynote was performed this morning by Greg Jowziak. As it was expected by Nick dePlume, there was no announcement of any new product during this keynote. The only announcement made by "Joz" is that Soundtracks will be available in a standalone version. I wonder if this separate peace of software has something to do with the rumor I had posted at the beginning of the year, sources had called it iTraks, I noticed that Soundtrack also uses technologies from EMAGIC, particularly some filters from Logic Audio.
Even-though there were no hardware announcements during this keynote, sources are confirming that some new releases are imminent. Though I'm not specialized in hardware I'm just going to report some comments my sources made. They still expect that the PowerBook G4 line will go all aluminum and will be speed-bumped with at least a 1Ghz PowerPC G4 for the 12" model and from 1.33Ghz to 1.4Ghz for the high end ones. It is also said that the xServes are going to be upgraded with G5 processors. Sources expectations are quite divided on the configurations. Most of them said there would be a 2Ghz dual G5 for the high end and another single processor server at 2Ghz. The cluster configuration might be dual 2Ghz G5 based too. Other sources claim that Apple will prefer releasing only dual G5s with quite lower clock speeds. It is also likely that xServe line sees some price adjustments in Europe because at the moment the situation is quite unacceptable with difference from $1000 to more than $3000 between US and EU prices!
Apple has also published it's Financial results today. Analysts' expectations have been beaten with earnings of $1.5 billion and $19 million of profits. Desktop sales have a lot dropped, especially for iMac sales while portables and iPod sales increased. These numbers are very good and they might be even better for the current quarter especially if Apple releases new hardware and also because of the recent release of the new PowerMac G5.
Stay tuned as new postings are coming by the end of this week or early next week and don't forget that your input is welcome.
July the 12th 2003
Panther build 7A202 update available through Software Update.
An update to Panther 7A179 build has been made available by apple through Software Update preferences pane. This update brings the build number to 7A202 while fixing bugs or improving Exposé, Mail and iChat.
During my initial Panther tests, I didn't notice any problem with Mail but iChat and Exposé were quite unstable with some display glitches. After this update both iChat and Exposé look stable. I also noticed a signifiant performance improvement on the Exposé effects and I found the Finder quite more reactive though it's maybe just an impresion. Other issues like the only partially implemented SMB browsing still remain.
It is interesting to notice a new minor feature on Software Update preferences pane. Now, you can see how much data has been downloaded while your updates are coming.
July the 11th 2003
Focus on Panther build 7A179 with screenshots - part 3.
Since my last two postings, I received so many mails that I really had to write a part 3 on Panther 7A179. So here it is. I hope that although there are now dozens of reports on the net, you'll still enjoy discovering new features that you might haven't seen anywhere else yet.
I'm going to start with something I actually noticed since the first day I tested Panther but I had forgotten to mention on my earlier reports: Although it's not on the dock any longer, Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 is still present in the Applications folder of Panther and it might stay there in the final release of Panther, in contrary to what I previously thought.
I have very good news for people who would like to use password protected proxy servers. Panther adds support for proxy authentication as shows this screenshot. This is one of the missing features of Jaguar that showed its immaturity. I've also noticed on the Network preference pane that there is a Network Assistant allowing you to easily set up your network settings.
A lot of you asked me further information and screenshots about the Finder, TextEdit and fast user switching. So here is a screenshot of the Finder's toolbar customizer, TextEdit preferences and another one of fast user switching login window. Note also that the fact that TextEdit opens .doc files means that you can finally open Word files written in languages that are not even supported by Word:mac. For example, I tried to open a Word XP document written in Greek and it was perfectly readable with TextEdit even-though Word:mac cannot read it. TextEdit can also write a Greek document that can then be opened and read on a PC. I also have to add that the wrap-page feature I had mentioned on my earlier report as new feature, actually exists also on current version of TextEdit.
The Terminal brings cool improvements too. It is now possible to put a picture as background and even apply the transparency effect on it, what makes very sexy terminal windows. There are also other cool features like the "Connect to server" item that allows you to easily connect to any kind of server very quickly. Unix geeks will also appreciate the new Scrollback features available on a dedicated menu.
As for QuickTime, there is nothing really new to report, except Pixo. I was quite disappointed to see that the full screen feature is still for the paid version only and I hope this will change.
Inkwell is one of these features on which it's not easy to report improvements because it requires some hardware to be connected for the preferences pane to appear. I fortunately own a Wacom Graphwire II, so I can say that Inkwell also sees some improvements that are welcome. It now better recognizes French en German and allows writing everywhere on the desktop.
The Help Viewer has always been laggy and buggy on earlier and even current releases of Mac OS X. It looks like the Panther version has been rewritten from the beginning. It now uses the Safari Web Core for HTML rendering so it's really faster and it never lags or endlessly blocks itself.
As showed by Steve Jobs during his WWDC keynote, Preview is certainly the fastest PDF reader we have ever seen. I opened a very large PDF file (that made my Windows PC freeze!!!) and I could smoothly browse it and make instant searches.
In terms third party of hardware support, Panther improves support for IIYAMA displays. Now I can use higher resolutions and refresh rates on my HM903DT. Remember on my first posting I told you that it was impossible for me to boot Panther on my PowerMac G4 AGP, upgraded with a Giga Designs 1Ghz/2Mb DDR processor card. I finally found that the problem came from my Adaptec 2906 PCI SCSI card. The PowerMac hangs when the card is installed and boots normally when I get it out. Let's hope the issue will be fixed on the final release.
I have to show you a second xCode screenshot on which you can see instant search, class browsing and SCM features. The new GUI is quite cool, I think it's overall faster and more productive.
Among other features that I've forgotten to mention on earlier articles is desktop and dock printing. Now it's possible not only to add any of your printers on the dock and on the desktop, but you can also drop any PDF file (and probably PS file though I did not try it) and print it without even having to launch a viewer. As on Jaguar, it is also still possible to drag any folder on the Print Utility icon to print its files listing.
I couldn't really test Classic mode because it did not want to boot the Mac OS 9.2 system that was installed in the same partition but I think there is no need to boot it to show you its new features. Classic now has a dedicated menu that allows you to start, stop and restart it. This new menu gives also access to the the Mac OS 9 Apple Menu as a sub-menu.
Finally, some sources reported that Panther's Keyboard & Mouse preference pane now brings support for Bluetooth devices. I unfortunately cannot show you that on a screenshot because my Mac is not bluetooth enabled. It might mean that Apple will soon release a wireless keyboard and a wireless mouse as recently reported by some rumor sites after Apple dropped prices on its current wired keyboard and mouse products.
I think there is nothing else really important to say about this build of Panther. My future Panther related postings will probably preview more recent builds that are already seeded to some developers. For the moment, all I could learn is that a lot of bugs are being fixed especially on the Finder and Exposé. Mac OS X Panther will probably ship in September at Apple Expo as xCode is announced for September the 15th on Apple's web site and some sources told me that Apple was on track with the development of Panther which means that there shouldn't be any delay. Some sources even claim that there will be new features that will be implemented on coming builds, let's hope that a new disc burning application is one of them ;).
Focus on Panther build 7A179 with screenshots - part 2.
Before starting with Panther I'd like to tell you about a new well-hidden feature of iChat AV. Those who have friends that run ICQ only will be happy to learn that they can now add them to their iChat list by typing their ICQ number on the AIM field of Address Book. Please note that to make this feature work, your friend has to use the latest alpha release of ICQ Lite or the latest ICQ for Mac that was recently released. This is a feature I had expected back in November 2002 in one of my postings, I'm happy that it came true.
I'm going to start with the utilities because I did not mention them a lot in my first review:
- The Activity Monitor is one of the most updated utilities with very useful new features. You can now know the usage of your processor, disk, RAM and network bandwidth for every application and you can make searches or see only items related to a selected user, for example.
- The Console has also been updated. We can now browse and see several types of logs and it is possible to send a report to Mail. This last feature has also been added to the activity monitor.
- On my last posting, I wasn't very precise about Ports Manager which is an X11 package installer like Fink. It gets sources from the Internet, organizes them into categories and then you just have to select a package and click to install. The first time I tried it, it would not work because it actually needs xCode to be installed to initialize itself properly. So, probably it didn't work without xCode because Apple has not yet updated the C libraries included in standard Panther installation. Anyway, at the moment even with xCode, it doesn't work very well. Actually it looks like Apple used DarwinPorts to make Ports Manager but I could not confirm that. Recently Fink, Gentoo and DarwinPorts merged and became Metapkg.
- Apple System Profiler interface has been re-organized with categories a lot like other Panther utilities.
- This is also the case with Internet Connect which reflects the new networking features I mentioned in my last posting.
- The Font Book is a new fonts management utility (though it's in the Applications folder), that will be really useful for professionals who have a lot of fonts or projects that need specific fonts. I don't think it supports all font formats though.
- I'm quite disappointed with what happened to Disk Burning on this early build of Panther. As I said in the first review. Disk Copy application has disappeared and Disk Utility has been improved and can now manage and burn disk images. The fact is that there is no new disk burning feature: still no ISO 9996 support (only MS-DOS), still no multi-session and it is still as painful as before to create a CD or DVD in Panther and burn it. Remember in a posting predicting what new features Panther would bring to us, sources had indicated to me that Disk Copy would have a new GUI. I hope that this is the reason why it has disappeared from the Utilities folder and that a new one will appear on later builds. I also noticed something while trying to mount an image there is no application opened so I guess this task is now integrated on the Finder.
There have also been several questions about fast user switching. Some asked if it was secure and I can say that it is, as anytime you switch from a user to another, if this user has a password set, this password will be requested each time. When Steve Jobs showed it during WWDC, he had set the password to blank for the second user to make a quick demo of it. The second concern of readers was the multi-threading capability when two users are logged in simultaneously. I tested this feature a lot. While I was installing xCode, I switched to another user and started surfing the net. I then switched back to my main user and started compiling one of the xCode featured examples then I finally switched back to the first user for web surf. Everything run quite smoothly as if it was the same user.
As shown by Steve Jobs during WWDC, Mail has been improved too. I could notice a significant performance improvements especially for the rendering of mails but I did not test it with my real big mailbox, which has more than 10,000 e-mails ;). Mail has also brought 'organize by threads' feature which is really cool and an improved junk mail filter which now has its own pane on the Mail preferences. There's good news for those who are using multiple mail providers and have more than one smtp servers. There is now an smtp server list editor to be able to manage your smtp servers. It's quite annoying, on the current version, to have to go through xml mail configuration files to delete one of your smtp servers so I'm happy that it's fixed.
As I have a home network running Red Hat and Solaris here, I tried to connect to my network's workgroup, find a shared volume and mount it. "Connect to server" feature is still here. It is slightly improved and it is now easier to manage favourite shared items and there is a Browse button that brings you to a Finder window with the Network item opened. It seems SMB browsing from the Finder is only partially implemented at the moment. I could reach my local server but when I double-clicked on it, it couldn't show any shared items. I guess it will be fixed for the final version though. SMB networked printers browsing works fine though. It shows any SMB shared printer automatically without even having to type a URL or a path to connect it. You only have to enable or disable the shared printers you want to use.
After several days of use, I've noticed some other cool features:
- Date & Time preferences pane that has been slightly improved there are now two ways to display date and time, as you can see from this screenshot.
- Switching from one application to another using the Apple-Tab shortcut now brings a cool transparent application switcher that shows you which application you're switching to. It is really useful when you have a dozen applications launched at the same time note that it's a feature we had on Mac OS 9.
- It is also important to notice that there is a new Keyboard & Mouse pane which brings the possibility of creating your own shortcuts for any application. Some readers asked me if it brought back the Mac OS 9 feature that allowed launching of any application with assigned function keys. I think I'll disappoint you, but I could not manage to do that with this new pane and I think this feature is not implemented. There are some already set shortcuts organized by categories: Screen Capture, Universal Access, Keyboard Navigation and Applications.
In terms of performance, Panther is not showing significant improvements yet but I'm sure the final version will be faster. I tried a test a suggestion made by a reader. I used the CPU Monitor (which is now part of the Activity Monitor and not longer a separate application) and I tried some basic tasks. First I tried running the mouse through the dock with magnification at 100%, the processor activity was at around 90% and the dock animation was as smooth as on Jaguar. Then I continually resized a Finder window and a Safari Window with a web page loaded. The processor monitor was at 100% but I noticed that the redrawing was more smooth than on Jaguar on both the Finder and on Safari. The Mac I'm using for the tests is a PowerBook Titanium @ 800Mhz with 1Gb of RAM and an external FireWire/USB2 2.5" hard drive (IBM Travelstar - 4200rpm/30Gb).
I had a lot other minor questions on Panther, I'm going to answer briefly:
- Is Cut and Paste feature to move files implemented? No it isn't.
- Is Safari improved? No it isn't but sources claim there will be a new version until Panther ships.
- Is the Finder FTP browser authentication/privileges bug fixed? No it is still has the read only bug but it seems they are working on it.
- Does Panther mount NTFS files? Yes, but in read only mode at the moment.
- Does Panther run smoothly on my iMac rev A? It runs as smooth as Jaguar at the moment but things like iChat effects or fast user switching 3D animation are getting quite heavy for it. Actually if your Mac can run Keynote fine at 1024x768 then it will run Panther with all its effects fine.
- Can we choose between Aqua and brushed metal interface for the Finder? No, but you'll quickly get used to this new look ;).
- Does the spring loaded feature work on the folders that are placed on the dock? No
As you see, the result of your hundreds of questions is that this is one of the biggest postings I ever written ;). I think I have answered almost all of your questions about Panther 7A179 and I hope that you are happy with this second report. I'm not sure there will be a part 3 for this build as newer builds with new features and fixes may come soon. It all depends on the number of exciting new features I may discover on that build and of the number of new interesting questions I receive on my mailbox.